Preface: Read this. It's good.
To perfectly sum up my feelings toward Michigan football in 2008, you need look no further than my reaction to Morgan Trent's fumble on the kick return after Wisconsin went up 13-0. In the past, I scream at the TV, bury my head in my hands and mutter obscenities about the world being an unfair place. This time, I could only shake my head wryly while watching from afar. While my father sat on his recliner across the room and decried, "this is a fucking joke", I resigned myself to the fact that it is what it is. I accepted the fact that Bret Bielema is an asshole, and would probably do a happy dance on the M at midfield after Wisconsin's firm beating of a mentally handicapped Michigan team was over. I accepted the fact that while chaos reigned supreme in the world of the internet, and boos rained down from the stands from ignorant people who don't know any better, ghosts from Michigan's past watched from the sidelines.
As it turns out though, Michigan isn't a mentally handicapped football team. They're just a team full of savants. It's Rain Man. After halftime, with Michigan in a 19-0 hole, I didn't expect a victory. I just hoped for one touchdown. I wasn't angry, I just wanted something to feel good about. I just wanted one touchdown to save some type of dignity. I'm not going to judge the schitzophrenic lynch mob that is the Michigan fanbase on the internet, but I can't help but shake my head at people screaming that Rodriguez is burying the program and the world is coming to an end. When people react based on emotion, you have to give them leniency. You have to excuse their behavior. Please forgive them, for they know not what they do.
This entire process is like bizarro world for me. When it comes to expecting the sky to fall and for everything to go wrong, nobody is above me. When the Pistons enter the postseason, I expect them to choke. When the Red Wings enter the postseason, I expect them to show their age. When the Tigers...take the field, I expect Yakety Sax to ensue. When the Lions play...I don't watch because I enjoy my eyesight and would like to avoid doing things that may cause me to ram forks into my eyes. But in the past, when Michigan had played, I always went against my own grain. When the winged helmets took the field, I expected victory, or I was miserable. But this year...it's different. Even before the Utah game, somewhere along the line I vaporized all expectations. That is not to say I was happy with losing. Nobody is ever happy with losing. But there's a big difference between being enraged after a loss (see: any of Michigan's losses in 2005) and accepting the loss because it's a growing process that will feature many, many growing pains.
And even then, with expectations squashed...they found a way to suck me back in. I got that touchdown I was wishing for in the third quarter. And then the defense went gangbusters. And then Steven Threet and Brandon Minor executed a perfect zone read play, completely freezing a Wisconsin linebacker and springing Minor for a 34 yard touchdown against a blitz. And then John Thompson intercepted a deflected pass, got a convoy from his ravenous teammates, and scored the go ahead touchdown. And then, in the ultimate preview of what will be one day, Steven Threet fooled everybody. When it appeared that Brandon Minor had taken the handoff and been crushed by a Wisky defender, in actuality, Threet had pulled the ball out, and was now running down the field with gassed Badgers chasing him. Jonathan Casillas is a senior All-Big Ten quality linebacker, and it took everything he had to chase down that freshman quarterback who can't run.
That is what 2008 is about, and it's time that people understood that. I have repeated this on internet message boards ad nauseum, but I guess it bears repeating again: This is not about wins and losses. Yes, this is Michigan, and that line of thinking is perverse, and I should be fired into space. Get over it. This is not about going deep into November competing with Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl berth. This is about growth, week to week, whether it's a win or a loss. People want to discuss how the first half on Saturday was the worst half of Michigan football ever. To that, I respond: Did you people watch the Oregon game last year? This year's team is a team full of freshmen and sophomores trying to work in a new system on offense. What's the excuse for last year's team that was gassed after a quarter and swirling the drain by halftime against Oregon? That was a team full of juniors and seniors. Where was the outrage when Chad Henne was booed off the field last year and Ryan Mallett was greeted with a savior's cheer?
The answer to all this is simple: There is still a large faction of the Michigan fanbase that is bitter about Les Miles not being on the sidelines. There is a group of "fans" that, while never admitting to wanting Michigan to fail, has disdain for Rich Rodriguez and is unwilling to give him a fair shake. We were three and a half games into the new era, and people were passing judgment, shooting their mouths off about a coach who has won everywhere he's been but is now trying to get the best out of a limited cupboard. There are people who are sick in the head and are trying to somehow convince people that the spread offense is magically making players fumble the football. To these people, I say: Jump ship. Mail me your football tickets, stay home, and don't you dare come crawling back in two years. Bitch and moan about Rich Rodriguez not being a Michigan Man, and then watch him after the clock hit 0:00 against Wisconsin.
So go ahead. Keep criticizing. When Michigan loses another fumble, throws another interception, loses another game this year, start yapping. I'm sure you'll feel vindicated when Ohio State beats Michigan again this year. I'm sure you'll believe that Les Miles would've done better. But don't try to get back on the bandwagon down the line.
And as for those who stay...remember the 2008 Wisconsin game. Remember the look on Bret Bielema's face when he realized what had slipped away from him. Contrast it to Bielema in the first quarter, staring directly at Michigan's defensive line and motioning first down with a grin on his face when Wisconsin's punter drew them offsides on 4th and 1.
Remember this game. And when you think about the people who booed and the people who left at halftime to go get drunk or to go sit on their orthopedic back pillows, remember what Bo said about Those Who Stay.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Preface: Read this. It's good.